The throbbing pain in his upper leg fades into the background. Exhaustion and the onset of a slight fever dull his sensory perception. His concentration slips, his field of vision narrows every now and then.
Jack sits in his make-shift bed with the back against the vertical cluster of stones in one of the ruins and rests. Every once in a while, his eyelids drop before his head jerks up again. He mustn’t sleep. Harry is somewhere out there and disorientated due to that damn plant. Jack isn’t quite sure what he’s up to. Equipped with an arsenal of weapons, he poses a lethal threat nonetheless.
His fingers tighten around his own gun, which is nestled against his abdomen.
Here in the semi-shade, the heat of the day is bearable. Chirping birds and the monotonous rustle of leaves lull him. A quick nap sounds more and more inviting.
He startles as a bleary figure passes the shreds of the curtain to his compartment. Jack squints his eyes but can’t see who it is. It’s nothing more than the shadowy outline of a ghost in a halo of light. At least, it’s not the silhouette of Maybourne. No, this mysterious stranger moves with more grace and elegance.
The distance between them decreases until, finally, an angelic beauty stands next to him. One, he would recognize anywhere. The light breeze gets entangled in the short, golden hair. Blue eyes sparkle as intense and shiny as a sapphire. Pink skin glows under the bright sunlight. A yellow short-sleeve blouse and a pair of skinny jeans accentuate the body. Crimson toenails peek out from leather sandals expertly strapped to her ankles.
How has he never before noticed such an intriguing detail?
Her smile, however, her dazzling, beaming smile convinces him that it’s her. Nothing – no alien technology, no memory altering drug – can replicate that.
“Major?” he croaks. He feels delirious.
“Jack.” She kneels down to his left. “I’m a figment of your imagination, and you call me by my rank?” Her hands lay intertwined in her lap.
“Carter….” It’s a beautiful dream, one he never wants to wake up from.
She tilts her head and arches one eyebrow in false indignation. “You can do better.” Like a silk blanket, her voice wraps around him.
“Sam.” Her name floats from the tip of his tongue. He has forgotten how wonderful it feels.
“See, that wasn’t so difficult at all, was it?” Her eyes are warm and carefree, something he hasn’t witnessed in a long time. Years of facing and fighting all kinds of evil have left their mark on her.
“Are you here for a pep talk?” he jokes. If it keeps the smile on her face, all the better. He’s addicted to it.
“Do you need one?” Once again, her eyebrow raises. The lines between the unique antics of Teal’c and Sam blur in his tired brain.
He doesn’t care as long as Daniel doesn’t show up. He doesn’t have enough energy to engage in a lengthy, cryptic conversation. He rather listens to incomprehensible technobabble. For a moment, he stares at Sam and marvels at the stunning vision next to him.
He could drown in the magnificent sight.
“So, you just gonna sit here?” Her question brings him back to the presence.
“Too tired,” he admits. His bones are filled with lead.
“Just give up, then?” Incredulity resonates in the question mark.
“No, never.” Steely determination sets his back and shoulders straight. He didn’t survive Ba’al’s torture to rot on this god-forsaken planet.
“That’s the spirit.” She nods in appreciation. “You have to save yourself and Maybourne.” By stressing the other man’s name, she emphasizes the Herculean task.
He huffs. Immediately, he regrets the poor decision as it turns into gurgled coughs rippling through his body. “Not that bastard. He nearly killed me.” The pulsating pain substantiates his repulsion.
“Jack.” He heard this particular intonation of his name many times. She won’t tolerate any petulant behavior. “Cut him some slack. He was under the influence of that plant, just like you.”
Sam is right, as always. Still, Jack doesn’t concede defeat and grumbles, “He brought me to this place. Into this situation.” He indicates to his injured leg. “That puts a damper on my sympathy.”
She shakes her head and purses her lips in mild reproach. “Can you live with the knowledge that he died because you refused to help him? Here, all alone.” She waves to their surroundings.
As tempting as it is, he can’t and won’t. He may have done unspeakable things in the past that were always directed toward an enemy. He isn’t proud of his history, but someone had to do the job. Harry, by contrast, is an annoyance any day, but he isn’t vicious. He doesn’t deserve to die on an alien planet. Although Jack could make him suffer a little bit more, just a tiny bit as payback. Even in his slightly incapacitated state, he’s better at hand-to-hand combat then Harry will ever be.
“Jack?” Her voice captures his straying thoughts and steers them back.
“No, I can’t,” he admits with a deep exhale. It might take some convincing. However, he could find a satisfactory solution for all parties involved. Once and for all.
“Then what’s stopping you from going out there and finding him?” she points to the forest behind the ruins.
The prospect that rescue is uncertain. The likeliness that he wastes resources and risks another injury. The fact that he is still in a bit of a sour mood when it comes to Harry.
Jack stares at her vibrant aura. His fingers itch to touch her. She regards him, without blinking, without averting her gaze. Her whole focus is on him. Everything else around them doesn’t exist for this one moment in time.
Jack’s head drops back against the wall and sighs. He shouldn’t doubt her and his team’s abilities and perseverance. While he is stuck here, they most certainly move heaven and earth - and probably all stars within the galaxy if necessary - to find a way to bring him back. They are a close family; Sam, Teal’c, and even Jonas. He hung on this long, he can do it a little longer.
“Do you trust me?” He still looks at the sky above him when she asks him the most important and most dangerous question of all.
“Always.” As if she needs to ask. That single word holds so much power. It’s the access code to his heart and soul.
“Then go, save yourself and Maybourne.” She leans into his personal space and, thereby, blocks out the sunlight. Her left hand cradles his scruffy face and redirects his gaze. A lovely curl of her lips accompanies the gesture.
“Will you be there?” he whispers, timid and hopeful. His dazed eyes plead with her.
Cold lips brand his forehead, whereas tender fingertips burn his skin on a reverent trail from his temple over his cheek to his chin. “I’ll always be here.” Her radiance fills his chest with confidence.
A twig snaps.
Jack’s eyes fly open as he raises his gun. Adrenaline rushes through his veins. It takes a second to get rid of the disorientation and fog in his head.
Maybourne. That bastard came back.
Despite a pang flaring up in his limb, Jack crawls to the archway and surveys the ruins. There, behind a low wall on the other side of the camp, he spots him. Harry’s face is covered with dark green mud, obviously some kind of camouflage. He holds his P90 close to his chest.
From Jack’s experience, these are the signs of a man ready for combat. He needs to get a message through to the other man, or this will end badly. “Harry? Harry?” he shouts in a hoarse voice. “It was a Goa'uld. It couldn't bring a weapon through that door, so it brought a plant. It's some kind of drug or something. Maybe it was an experiment... maybe it was supposed to get the people to serve him, I don't know, but it backfired.” He pauses and carefully sorts his next words. “These people, they all killed each other because of that plant. You're paranoid, it's messing with your head. I'm not trying to kill you.”
Jack chances a glimpse and catches sight of Harry jumping up with his raised weapon. As fast as lightning, Jack rolls to his right and dodges a salvo of bullets. He stays close to the ground and stealthily creeps to another crumbled building on his right. The situation is getting out of control.
An explosion rips through Jack’s former temporary housing.
Harry has completely lost his mind. Time to end this dangerous charade.
Jack sneaks to a large bush which grows in Harry’s blind spot and cowers behind. As the other man nears the place of devastation, Jack straightens up and cocks his gun. “Drop it.” Harry turns around and faces him. His maniac eyes blaze, his lower lip quivers. “Drop it now, or I will shoot you.” Calm determination underlines his ultimatum. The finger at the trigger bends, ready to fire.
Jack recognizes the inner battle on Harry’s face and is prepared when he raises his weapon against his warning.
A shot rings through the air.
Harry slumps to the ground. Jack hastens over to him and crouches down. With frantic fingers, he examines the unconscious man. He takes his pulse and hears shallow respiratory noises. Thank god. Harry isn’t dead; he only bleeds from a wound in his lower abdomen close to the spleen. Jack administers first aid as best as he can with the limited supplies available.
For now, the situation has been resolved, yet they still need to get off this damn planet. Soon. Better yesterday.
Day turns into night and day again without any interruptions or progress. Jack hovers over Harry and takes care of his wound. The injured man remains unconscious but seems to be in a stable condition.
Shortly after sunrise, Jack detects a flying object at the horizon. It’s too large for a bird, the flight pattern too much controlled by inertia. Hope blossoms. He takes out his radio and switches it on. He adjusts it to SG-1’s standard frequency and calls, “SG-1, this is Colonel O’Neill. Do you read me?”
Only static noise responds.
He repeats, “SG-1, do you read me?” The fingers clutch the device in his hand until the knuckles turn white.
After a few seconds of silence, a distorted voice comes back,” This is SG-1. How are you, sir?”
The tension in his muscles evaporates while the corners of his mouth curl up. She kept her promise. Nonchalantly, he remarks, “Oh, peachy. Harry needs medical attention, and I could go for a long, hot shower.”
Her chuckle vibrates loud and clear through the radio and tugs at his heart. “Copy that, we’re closing in on your position. Should arrive in a minute or two.”
“Take your time. This place is actually quite nice apart from this plant, which causes hallucinations and turns you into a lunatic.”
“We’ll keep that in mind, sir. Carter out.”
How he missed her voice, her smile, her laugh.
Jack puts his radio away. Relieved, he walks back to the fireplace and sits down on a log. In his right hand, he swirls a long stick to bridge the time until his team arrives. A tremendous amount of pride settles in his chest. Once again, their team effort snatched one of them from the jaws of death.
She was right, as always.
Harry’s eyes flutter open as he takes one gasp for air. When his condition dawns on him, he mutters, “Some retirement this turned out to be.”
Jack ignores the statement. “How are you doing?”
Without hesitation, Harry answers, “My head's a little clearer. How long have I been out?
“I don't know, day or so.” Jack shrugs one shoulder.
“I really screwed up, didn't I?” A hint of remorse is audible in Harry’s voice.
Since the original anger has long since disappeared, Jack reassures him, “It's not your fault. None of the people here could stop themselves.”
“Right from the beginning.” Harry turns his head away for a split second. “Sorry, Jack, I never should have dragged you into this.” The apology sounds sincere.
“Yes, Harry, you've been a very bad boy.” It’s not morally reprehensible to enjoy the other man’s misery a little bit, especially after all he put them through. Sam’s words echo in his mind; therefore, Jack holds his tongue.
Harry strains to breathe. A cough shakes his body.
“Hey, don't you die on me now.” A flicker of concern passes Jack’s face.
“What difference would it make?” Crestfallen and glum, Harry questions his future.
At that moment, the Al’kesh descends from the cloud ceiling without a sound and glides overhead. Jack’s gaze lingers and traces the elegant movements. “Because we’re about to be rescued.”
Because she is here.